Lessons from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Conor McGregor
It has always been my conviction that people have overarching themes to their lives: something they spend the majority of their time and energy trying to achieve. So much so that everything in their lives from the seemingly most minute efforts to thought process and speech can be tied back to these themes. For my brother, I suspect those themes are family and romance. His entire life, ever since we were kids, he loved to love. Everything in his life seems to be driven towards the attainment and sustenance of those two themes. From taking on a provider and father figure role to our family all the way through to his romantic misadventures like the time he moved to California for 3 years for a girl he’d only spoken to via phone for a year. Whatever needed to be done he would do it as long as it contributed to these two themes. For me, conversely, the theme has always been independence. Everything I do is an effort to sustain the notion that I did it on my own, independent of everything and everyone. It wasn’t until recently I realized my interpretation of independence is not the most accurate and that its true application to my life may be just outside of the realm of possibility. The oddest thing about these epiphanies is that they came to me from the most unexpected sources: a children’s cartoon show and an MMA fighter whose public arrogance I reserve my highest level of disdain.
Lesson 1: The illusion of separation
If you’re unfamiliar with the television show Avatar: The Last Airbender I suspect that there is an inexplicable emptiness in your life. I grieve for you! But do not fret, friend. This children’s show will not only entertain your mind with an action-packed story, it will also lighten your hearts and souls with its humorous adventures. It takes place in a fictional world where some humans are born with the ability to manipulate or “bend” one of the traditional four elements: fire, air, water, and earth. The characters live the four nations, each of which associate with one of those four elements. In all of the world, there is one “Avatar” who has the ability to bend all four elements. It is the Avatar’s responsibility to maintain the balance of the world.
The premise of the show surrounds Avatar Aang, a twelve-year-old boy and the last remaining Airbender who was frozen for in ice for 100 years. During the time Aang was frozen, the Fire Lord, leader of the Fire Nation, committed genocide against the Air Nomads in an attempt to find and kill the Avatar. This was the beginning of an era of Fire Nation conquest of all the world. The enslavement of the other nations and the genocide of the Air Nomads upset the balance of the world and perfectly positioned the Avatar and the new Fire Lord for an inevitable collision course. But first, the Avatar needed to master the other three elements to not only survive a battle with the much more seasoned and deadly Fire Lord but to beat him and restore balance to the world. On his journey to master the elements, Aang found himself unable to connect with his “Avatar State”, a state in which he can summon the knowledge, skill, spirits and energy of all the previous incarnations of the Avatar. To remedy this, he sought Guru Pathik, a friend and “spiritual brother” to Aang’s Air Nomads. Guru Pathik walked Aang through opening all of his chakras one of which was the chakra of Light. He then explained the details of this chakra: “It deals with insight and is blocked by illusion. The greatest illusion of this world is the illusion of separation. Things you think are separate and different are actually one and the same.”
Almost immediately I began thinking about what that statement meant in relation to my theme of independence. If it was true it would mean that independence couldn’t truly exist because independence by definition implies some form of separation. It is a state of being relative to something other than yourself. When I think of independence I immediately think of being independent of something. Even in thinking of synonyms like autonomy and freedom there’s is the implication of relation. Autonomous means self-governing and as long as there is a notion of self there would always be separation. Self is individual, and if its individual then it is separate. Similarly, the word freedom has a relative quality since the word begs the question: free from what? After briefly thinking on the subject, I filed this away as something I just didn’t agree with, and no longer required any more analysis. That was until I saw the post fight interview with Conor McGregor.
Lesson 2: Self-made
I first came across Conor McGregor a few weeks ago in one of those situations where you look one thing up on YouTube and all of sudden you are sucked into a vortex where time seemingly stops existing and before you know it you’ve wasted half the day watching video clips. In any case, I was looking up Ronda Rousey, who I love to watch fight but is believed to have trash talked herself into a premature championship fight. So it makes sense that Conor McGregor would have shown up as a related search since he too has a penchant for trash talk. Here are a few things that the Irish fighter has said to his shorter opponent, Chad Mendes, a few weeks ago:
“I can rest my balls on your forehead.”
“I will take that belt from Jose , and I will come back hunting for your little midget head.”
While it was fun to watch Mendes and McGregor trash talk each other leading up to the fight, I found myself naturally hoping the Mendes would win and serve McGregor some humble pie. When that didn’t happen I had to see what outrageous thing would fly right out of McGregors’ mouth in the post-fight interviews. Much to my surprise, McGregor came across quite gracious, an uncharacteristic departure from his typically brash and crass interviews. He said the following which really resonated with me: “I honestly believe there is now such thing as self-made . . .The people who have been around me . . . helped shape this moment.” Aside from being surprised by McGregors uncharacteristic humility, I was more surprised with the fact that I found validity in the statement. Especially given the fact the it contrasts even more strongly with my initial notion of independence than Guru Pathik’s statement on the illusion of separation. If there is no such thing as self-made then independence as I’ve defined it cannot exist.
I reflected on some of my proudest achievements and testaments to independence and realized that somehow, someway, those achievements came to fruition through the joint efforts of myself and my friends and family. My academic success wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my brother, friends, and professors. It was my degree and yet it wasn’t. It belonged to everyone who contributed that effort and energy in me which I then poured into the task at hand. The same is true for my professional career.
However hard I worked, however many hours I put in, that success was afforded to me through the help of my team. They were my promotions, but were also afforded by the energy of my supporters as well as my own efforts. I realized that if I was accepting this statement as true then I’m forfeiting my interpretation of independence as doing things on my own. And if I no longer find that definition to be valid then there’s is nothing in the way of accepting that separation is an illusion. By accepting both statements as true the theme of my life as independence transforms. The new definition, therefore, would be the acknowledgment that I did not do things on my own. Instead, I accepted the gift of support and energy afforded to me by my social circle to do things that I autonomously found fulfilling. In this way, my circle operates as a collective of energy contributors gathering a pool of independence that we can all use a resource towards fulfillment.